TV Review // Doctor Who: Series 9, Episode 10: 'Face The Raven'
Warning: contains spoilers for this episode and the finale of Series 9!
Cast: Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Maisie Williams, Jovian Wade
Written by: Sarah Dollard
Directed by: Justin Molotnikov
I write this review in the face of significant anger at the BBC and Doctor Who show runner, Steven Moffat, who I suspect of enormous rug-pulling, which has somewhat soured my ability to totally enjoy Sarah Dollard’s wonderfully scripted episode, Face The Raven.
I understand the need of a modern programme to keep the viewer interested with press releases and “Coming next” pieces, but when you’re watching an episode where a much-loved companion dies, yet the show’s own makers have the latest edition of Doctor Who magazine featuring said companion in a scene from a future episode, it can only dull the emotional impact of what you are watching.
But let’s leave the “Is Clara really dead?” question aside for now and judge Face The Raven on its own merits. Which are many…
As I’ve already said, Sarah Dollard’s script is an absolute beauty, brought to glorious life by everyone involved, and I would note that composer Murray Gold’s score throughout this episode is his best in a long, long time.
The story involves Rigsy (who we last saw in series 8’s superlative Flatline) who is now a dad (which is lovely), but who also has a tattoo on his neck that is counting down to zero (which is clearly not lovely at all). Rigsy calls the Doctor and Clara to help him and the trio end up in a hidden “trap street”* - a secret alien sanctuary right in the middle of London.
Running the hidden street is Mayor Me (aka Ashildr with a short memory), the returning Maisie Williams, who has been made to live for eternity by the Doctor, but who still has a human-sized brain. Ashildr has become even more cynical and less human as the years have passed, although she does have a seemingly genuine affection for Clara, who Ashildr now remembers only through her diaries.
Ashildr has placed the countdown tattoo on Rigsy’s neck, believing that he may be involved in the death of one of her people. It’s the flimsiest of excuses on which to hang a death sentence, but Ashildr places the sanctity of peace on the street above all else, however unfair.
We’ve seen over Capaldi’s two series as The Doctor that Clara has increasingly taken over the “Doctor” role; she has become giddy and reckless in the face of her travels in time and space with everyone’s favourite Gallifreyan. She wants to be the Doctor, but doesn’t have 2000 years or a Time Lord’s knowledge under her belt. The Doctor has allowed Clara to take on his role to such a degree that in fact, it could be reasonably argued that he is responsible for her fate here as she takes on Rigsy’s death sentence, believing that there’ll be a clever way out of it. There isn’t.
Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi are at their absolute best here as the realisation of what must happen to Clara - that she must die - becomes apparent. As The Doctor’s rage begins to emerge, Clara puts an absolute stop to it. She refuses to allow him to consider revenge (although, whether this will happen or not, we can only wait to find out). And this is where Sarah Dollard does such a wonderful, wonderful job.
“You’re going to be alone now, and you’re very bad at that” says Clara. She knows what The Doctor may be capable of as Ashildr’s transport bracelet readies itself to take him away to who knows where. “What’s the point of being The Doctor if I can’t cure you?” asks The Doctor, his heartbreak at Clara’s impending death writ large on his weary face. This is acting and scriptwriting at its most sublime.
And so Clara must inevitably face the raven. And death. Or is it?
We’ll have to wait to see what the series finale brings for Clara, but we really do wish that if a character is dead, they stay dead. (To have the possibility - or probability - of Clara’s return in mind when watching her death can only lessen its impact on us.) We certainly hope that her end, when it does finally come, is a fitting one. Maybe this was it. Most likely it wasn’t.
The most heartbreaking ending to a companion’s story in recent years has been that of the brilliant temp from Chiswick, Donna Noble. Having travelled with her “best mate” and having become the most important woman in the Universe, The Doctor had to wipe all traces of him and their adventures from her mind in order to save her. It was an appalling end for a brilliant character. It was also fitting, even if they did bring Donna back for one last hurrah in David Tennant’s final episodes.
In a similar vein to the Doctor/Donna relationship, one of the joys of the twelfth Doctor/Clara relationship has been the complete absence of any “boyfriend” romance, but rather an emotional friendship, where each needs the other. If Steven Moffat brings Clara back for a last hurrah, then we’ll probably forgive him in time. For now, though, let’s take Face The Raven on face value and see it as a suitably devastating ending for The Impossible Girl.
Fan pleasing moments: Glimpses of the Judoon, a Sontaran, an Ood and a Cyberman in the trip street population.
Questions, questions: What will happen to The Doctor’s confession dial now?
Will we see more appearances in future episodes from Maisie Williams? Will she be the next companion? It doesn’t bear thinking about now that Ashildr is set on a path that could achieve a Doctor/Master level of frenemy-ship.
If the TARDIS has been in London long enough to have become a shrine to Clara, where can The Doctor be?
Will we see Jovian Wade as Rigsy again? We hope so!
Music: It can only be Murray Gold’s gorgeous score.
Trap Streets: (courtesy of Wikipedia): “Trap streets are often nonexistent streets; but sometimes, rather than actually depicting a street where none exists, a map will misrepresent the nature of a street in a fashion that can still be used to detect copyright violators but is less likely to interfere with navigation. For instance, a map might add nonexistent bends to a street, or depict a major street as a narrow lane, without changing its location or its connections to other streets.
Next: Heaven Sent
(Andrea McGuire. Images © BBC )